The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and the Oregon School Activities Association — the governing bodies of high school athletics in their respective states — got it right this week when they agreed to allow Oregon’s Hermiston High School to compete in Washington state’s Mid-Columbia Conference.
As a result, it will be possible starting in 2018 for the Bulldogs of the Oregon high school to win a Washington state championship. But to do so, they will likely have to take on the Wa-Hi Blue Devils in league play.
Although the situation is clearly unusual, it is nevertheless a good move for the students (and taxpayers) of Hermiston. And it will also benefit Wa-Hi and the other high schools that compete in the Mid-Columbia Conference from Richland, Kennewick and Pasco.
This makes the Mid-Columbia Conference, which is a 3A/4A league, stronger. It adds another school to the mix to boost competition, and Hermiston is near the other schools. It’s only about an hour’s drive from Walla Walla. The trip to the Tri-Cities is even shorter.
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While this decision is just good sense, it’s somewhat surprising it was made. Too often these types of moves are scuttled because state borders are viewed as sacrosanct when it comes to high school competition.
Yet, the WIAA and OSAA boards of directors wisely took an analytical approach in determining that forcing Hermiston to play its league games in Portland and Bend, trips that would be 400 miles round trip in many cases, was just plain stupid.
Hermiston School District Athletic Director Larry Usher said it was an effort by both state associations to “do what was right for the kids.”
“I’m sure there was a lot of spirited debate during the voting,” Usher said, “but the entire executive boards from the OSAA and WIAA stuck their necks out for kids they haven’t even met before. Now our kids will get the chance to have a normal athletic experience. We’ve never had that.”
Hermiston, starting in the 2018-2019 school year, will become the first out-of-state school to join the WIAA and compete for its championships.
WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said Hermiston’s application has sparked talks with Idaho’s state high school association as well, which could have impact in the Spokane area.
Ultimately, matching schools nearby rather than by state boundaries is a boon for student athletes as they won’t have to miss as much class time.
“For a three-sport athlete, there would be about 40 days of school missed due to travel,” said Hermiston’s Usher. “For a day of travel to a Mt. Hood Conference school, it would be about five hours missed in the classroom.”
This decision was a big win for Hermiston High as well as the other schools in the Mid-Columbia Conference, including Wa-Hi.